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Indian Constitution: A Hand-Crafted Work of Art

Indian Constitution: A Hand-Crafted Work of Art

If you ever get a chance to look at the Constitution of India, notice the name ‘Prem’ inscribed at the bottom of each page. Who is Prem? And what is his name doing on the pages of one of the most hallowed documents of India?

Well, it seems ‘Prem’ truly earned that privilege, for Prem Behari Narain Raizada was the man who quite literally wrote the Constitution. Seated in the Constitution Hall (now the Constitution Club of India), Raizada spent six months and wrote the assignment of his life. 

Prem Behari Narain Raizada writing the Constitution of India with a dip-pen and (right) his signature as it appears at the bottom of every page

A calligrapher with a degree from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, he wrote every word of this seminal document – that’s 1,17,369 words – in flawless, flowing calligraphy. It added up to 251 pages in English.

When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked what he would charge as a fee, Raizada said all he wanted in return was to write his name on every page and, on the very last page alongside that of his grandfather, who had raised him and taught him the art of calligraphy. Nehru agreed.

To execute every flourish and every cursive stroke to perfection, Raizada used No 303 nibs for his dip pens. That’s a total of 432 nibs. He also needed quality parchment, and it was sourced from the Handmade Paper Institute in Pune. An institute with strong links to the Swadeshi movement and to Mahatma Gandhi in particular, it supplied 90-100 gsm bond paper for the original manuscript.

Dr Rajendra Prasad examining the handwritten manuscript of Prem Behari Narain Raizada

A Work of Art

It is not only Raizada’s beautiful calligraphy that makes the Indian Constitution a work of art. Nandlal Bose, a pioneer of modern Indian art, and a small team of his students from Visva Bharati (Santiniketan, West Bengal) contributed to making this document a collector’s item.

They embellished the border of every page and the beginning of every part of the Constitution with the most beautiful and intricate art.

These artists represented ancient Indian culture with vignettes from Mohenjo-daro, the Vedas and the epics; they included scenes from the lives of the Buddha and Mahavira; and depicted the Gupta rulers, whose golden era contributed so much to Indian culture.

A few pages from the constitution depicting the Mohenjo-daro seal, a Jain Kalpasutra manuscript and the Himalayas

India’s medieval era is represented with images of the Nataraja and a scene from the Mamallapuram sculptures. Great rulers like Mughal Emperor Akbar, Maratha warrior-king Shivaji, ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan, and warrior-queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi also find a prominent place on the pages of the Constitution of India.

The section on fundamental rights features a scene from the Ramayana; Gandhi’s Dandi March finds a place in the section on official languages; and in Part XIX, Subhas Chandra Bose is shown saluting the tricolour.

The art of the Preamble of the Constitution was created by Beohar Rammanohar Sinha with such care and precision that he visited the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, and the monuments at Sanchi, Sarnath and Mamallapuram as part of his research before he used motifs from these great monuments to convey the essence of the Constitution.

Members of the Constituent Assembly signing the original, handwritten copy of the Constitution of India

Printed, Signed And Sealed

It wasn’t enough to preserve the original handwritten manuscript of the Constitution. The Government of India needed to make copies. So the Dehradun-based Survey of India made 1,000 photolithographic reproductions from the handcrafted original and preserved the first one that rolled off the press. 

Sadly, the two machines that printed this first batch of India’s founding document were sold as scrap in 2019. The institute says the machines, manufactured by the UK’s RW Crabtree & Sons, were too expensive to maintain.

The Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949. The Assembly met again so that each member could sign the document, on 24th January 1950. Two days later, on 26th January 1950, the Constitution took effect. India had become a Republic.

The original, handcrafted manuscript of the Constitution is stored in a temperature-controlled, helium-filled case in the Library of Parliament. While it may be under lock and key, the spirit of the Constitution is alive in the hearts and minds of the citizens of India.

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